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By Stuart Fraser

Is the tour too long?

We kick off this weeks Talking Balls blog with the issue of the week.  Messages on Twitter and questions at press conferences all contributed to several newspaper reports on the subject.  Plus the fact there were a total of nine retirements at the Shanghai Masters event, which was already missing two of last week’s world top three in Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Despite the absence of these two stars, it was still a fantastic week in Shanghai.  The word from China from those that were there is that the tournament was excellently organised and ran like clockwork.  Players were treated superbly although it is a shame that the crowd numbers were a bit disappointing at times, particularly on the new grandstand court.

Nikolay Davydenko was a deserved winner.  Despite being branded by some as being one of the dullest players on tour (which I certainly don’t agree with), the positive attacking brand of tennis he brings to the court is extremely exciting and he rounded off the week with a stunning performance in the final against Rafael Nadal.  The Russian has given himself a great chance of qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals in London and I, for one, hope he does.

Despite reaching the final, Nadal still clearly wasn’t at his best in Shanghai and he was one of the players calling for a proper off-season at the start of last week.  The Spaniard said: “It's impossible to play 1 January and finish 5 December.”

Andy Roddick was another calling for the ATP to sort out the length of the season.  The American wrote several Twitter messages on the subject last week and it was ironic that he had to retire from his first match in Shanghai against Stanislas Wawrinka due to a knee injury.

Looking at this year’s ATP calendar, it is hard to disagree with those calling for a shorter season.  The first compulsory event that players had to attend was the Australian Open on the 19th of January.  The top players will then finish their season at the ATP World Tour Finals which ends on the 29th of November.  Some though, Nadal for example, will not finish their year until the Davis Cup Final is played the following week.

Then consider that the first compulsory event in 2010 is the Australian Open on the 18th of January.  Is that really a suitable off-season?  Consider also the time for rest and recuperation, the small matter of Christmas and the hard training sessions which players will go through to get themselves ready for 2010.  There are also several “warm-up” events for the Australian Open beginning on the 4th of January which most players will compete in.

Yes, there have been three periods this year of around a month after the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open where players have had the opportunity to take some time out from the tour.  And yes, the tour is glamorous as it takes in some of the most exciting locations in the world but for players travelling on it week in, week out, it can get tiresome and a decent off-season is needed to rest the body.  Look at other sports such as golf which has nowhere near as arduous a season as tennis.

I don’t think we have heard the last of this as there are several players who will not let this matter be brushed under the carpet.  The provisional calendar for the 2011 season is already up on the ATP website but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few changes to that in due course.

Bogdanovic puts in strong case for Davis Cup

Alex Bogdanovic has lost seven out of his eight Davis Cup rubbers played for Great Britain.  His only win comes in a dead rubber in 2003 against doubles specialist Todd Woodbridge where Australia had already clinched the tie.

Yet, he sent a strong message to Great Britain captain John Lloyd yesterday when he won the Kolding Challenger in Denmark yesterday.  And with it, he once again became the British No.2 climbing up the world rankings to No.185.

Yes, the challenger win came as a result of opponent Ivan Dodig being disqualified at one set all in the final after verbally abusing a line judge.  Strange circumstances which resulted in the Croatian reportedly smashing his runners-up trophy to pieces.

Bogdanovic though had a hugely impressive week where he dropped only one set on route to the final.  Defeated opponents include Olivier Rochus and Stefan Koubek and this raises questions over whether Lloyd should recall Bogdanovic to the Davis Cup squad for the next tie away to Lithuania in March 2010.

Of course, there is still a long way to go between now and then and a lot could happen.  But a win like this has proven that Bogdanovic is still clearly our second best singles player and for this, he must be, at the very least, considered by Lloyd.  Remember, we are now playing in Europe/Africa Zone Group 2 and Lithuania’s highest ranked singles player is Ricardas Berankis at No.419.  A match that Bogdanovic is surely capable of winning!

Scotstoun Futures

International tennis returns to Glasgow this week when the Scotstoun Leisure Centre hosts an AEGON Pro-Series event comprising of a men’s $15k futures and women’s $25k competition.

I always look forward to the Scotstoun futures as not only do you get a good chance to see some high quality tennis, you sometimes get a sneak peek of someone who will go on to bigger things.  For example, Andy Murray won this event in 2003.

Some of the notable players appearing from a British perspective in the men’s draw are Dan Evans, Richard Bloomfield and Chris Eaton.  The entry list is headed by World No.276 Yannick Mertens of Belgium.

The women’s draw has attracted some impressive players including World No.86 Patricia Mayr of Austria.  British interest includes Katie O’Brien, Melanie South and Naomi Cavaday.

Junior US Open Girls champion Heather Watson is also appearing and had an impressive double bagel victory in her first qualifying match today.  She plays fellow teenager Mona Barthel, aged 19, of Germany in the final round of qualifying tomorrow which should be a very interesting match. 

I spoke to Mona’s coach at Scotstoun last year and he told me that she was only playing a limited schedule of tournaments as she was still at school.  It appears she is now playing on the tour full-time and has got herself up to a ranking of No.363.  She reached the quarter-finals in Glasgow last year and is a strong ball hitter off both wings so it should be a good test for Watson tomorrow morning.

It’s not often we get to see some professional tennis in Scotland so hope some of you can manage along to Scotstoun this week. Entry for spectators is free!

Scandal in Stockholm

Finally, I came across the following article online today:

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet has reported that one of them is competing in this week's Stockholm Open.  Suffice to say, the speculation is rife on the internet as to who these players are.  I don’t want to say too much on the matter but I can assure you a good five minutes of fun can be had looking at the entry list for the Stockholm Open!